Audit Commission raises transparency concerns in final audit oversight report

10 Dec 14

The Audit Commission’s controller of audit has raised concerns about transparency at Hampshire Fire and Rescue Authority and the London Borough of Lambeth after they failed to publish their 2013/14 accounts in time.

Publishing Auditing the Accounts 2013/14: Local Government Bodies today, Marcine Waterman said timely presentation of audited accounts with an unqualified audit opinion was fundamental to good governance.

The report found that 352 of 356 (99%) councils received an audit opinion on their accounts by the September 30 deadline. Those that did not have were Gravesham Borough Council (since issued on October 1), and the London boroughs of Lambeth, Tower Hamlets and Newham, which have not yet been issued.

Overall, 506 of 512 principal bodies, which also include 31 fire and rescue authorities, 76 police bodies and 49 other local government bodies, received an audit opinion by the date.

The shortfall is made up of four bodies that published unaudited accounts on their website by September 30 – even though the audit opinion had been issued which it was in a position to publish by this date – and two that did not publish their accounts by this date.

The four were the Chief Constable for South Yorkshire Police; Salford City Council; Southwark Council; and Stoke on Trent and Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Authority, while Hampshire Fire and Rescue Authority and the London Borough of Lambeth had not published by accounts.

‘Four bodies published unaudited accounts on their website by September 30, either in committee papers or elsewhere on their website,’ Waterman said.

‘In the commission’s view, this does not meet the requirements of the Accounts and Audit Regulations. Two principal bodies did not publish their accounts, either audited or unaudited, by September 30 2014. For these two bodies, I am concerned by this lack of transparency.’

No bodies had received a qualified audit opinion on their 2013/14 accounts and only 14 councils and two police bodies had their arrangement for securing value for money qualified.

Responding to the concerns, a Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service spokesman said: 'Due to a technical accounting issue relating to historic mis-coding of the firefighter injury pension, it was agreed with our external auditors we would take the time to re-state the accounts to adjust for the errors.

'Our position was formally lodged and explained to the Audit Commission and our accounts re-audited and signed off before the end of October, with the full agreement of the auditors.'

A Lambeth Council spokesman said: ‘Lambeth Council's accounts have received an unqualified opinion from our auditors following a thorough review process, which caused some delay beyond the normal timetable for approval.'

This is the last Auditing the Accounts report that the commission will publish before its abolition next March, Waterman highlighted.

‘Accounting officers rely on the annual accounts and audit processes for assurance that the funds provided to local public bodies have been safeguarded and accounted for properly.

'The information in our Auditing the Accounts report contributes to this assurance. Since the Audit Commission published the first Auditing the Accounts report for 2008/09, there has been a significant improvement in the performance of both principal and small bodies in meeting their financial reporting responsibilities.’

Responding to the report, Alison Scott, CIPFA’s assistant director responsible for financial reporting, said she welcomed that the report demonstrated continuous improvement in the quality and timeliness of local authority accounts.

‘This is particularly impressive in a time when local authority resources are becoming increasingly scarce. Local authorities are to be congratulated on the achievements heralded in the report,’ she said.

‘The improvements in financial reporting will also support CIPFA’s project on the simplification and streamlining of local authority financial statements. CIPFA is looking at radical options to enable authorities to effectively tell the story of their financial performance which is fundamental in times of austerity in the public sector.’

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